Retooling The Employee Appraisal - Management
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SECTION: Management

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Retooling The Employee Appraisal

Written By Phillip M. Perry

Article Date: 01-01-2006
Copyright (C) 2006 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

How to conduct a great performance review.

The performance review: Too often it's an ordeal loathed, feared, and rescheduled until it can't be put off any longer. So common is the tendency to disparage the traditional employee evaluation that we have to wonder if the annual ritual is worth the effort. Why not drop the whole thing and get to work?

Successful employers, of course, have come to grips with such emotional reactions and recognize the performance review for what it is - the best tool for creating a motivated workforce that boosts the bottom line.

"Having a performance appraisal system is the most important step any organization can take, regardless of its size," says Dick Grote, a Dallas-based performance management consultant. "Every single person in every single company wants to know the answers to two questions: What is it you expect of me and how am I doing at meeting your expectations? Performance appraisals are the one system we have that gives people the answers to both questions."

So what if you don't have a good system in place? You end up with employees who work in the dark and think they are doing the right thing because no one tells them otherwise, says Grote. Fact is, people need continuing guidance to improve.

"Too often managers don't say anything unless they catch someone doing something wrong," he says.
So how can you perform a really great performance review? Here are some tips:

Review Throughout The Year

Too often performance evaluations are lumped together into a single high-stress meeting at the end of the year. Not good. Effective evaluations, say workplace consultants, are a continuing process. Successful leaders work closely with employees through the year to set expectations, evaluate progress and adjust performance.

Regular reviews obviate an otherwise all too common disaster: Unpleasant surprises at evaluation time. Suppose you make a grand announcement about an employee's poor performance in an annual appraisal meeting. The target of your criticism is likely to come back with this retort: "Why didn't you tell me this earlier in the year?"

That's a good question, says consultant Grote.

"People want to do a good job," he says. "It's the responsibility of managers to let them know how to do it." That means communicating expectations at the beginning of the year and giving feedback regularly as the months pass.

So just how often should you interact with employees? It depends on the individual and the role they're in, says Grote. Maybe with senior executives annual reviews are adequate. Moving down the ranks means more frequent reviews. Much also depends on how long the person has been in the current position. For a seasoned employee, you may review performance a couple of times a year. A new employee may benefit from a chat every week.

The best system has no predictable dates for reviews, according to Don Schackne, president of Personnel Management and Administration Associates, Delaware, Ohio.

"Employees maintain a high level of productivity if they don't know when their supervisors will say ‘we are going to sit down this afternoon for a performance review'," he says.

Conversely, a formal schedule for annual or semi-annual reviews can create what Schackne calls a performance halo effect.

"As you approach the review date, the employee begins to perform better," he says. "Then the review takes place and now the employee sits back and performance slides again."

That's bad for everyone.

Quantify Performance

John's work performance has been deteriorating for the past few months. How do you know? And just how can you communicate your observation to John in a convincing way?

According to Daniel P. Moynihan, principal at Compensation Resources, a performance and evaluation training firm in Upper Saddle River, N.J. you should "Keep records on employee actions and results, then base performance ratings on those records rather than on subjective feelings."

Here's the reason: Numbers can make a difference in communicating your concerns to under-performers. Suppose you've received complaints from customers about an employee. You'll only cause the person to balk if you say: "You need to improve your customer relations skills."

Instead, say "We've received six complaints from customers about you during the past year." Then read the details of each complaint from the written records.

Use numbers whenever possible. How many times did the employee arrive late for meetings, and by how many minutes? How many arguments erupted in the work place? By what percentage was the employee under a certain required performance level? How many times did the employee take an extra half hour for lunch?

This calls for careful record keeping, and Moynihan suggests committing notes to paper rather than trusting your memory.

"Keep a notebook in your desk drawer with one page for each employee," he says. "Then write down the good and bad things that occur throughout the year."

Discuss these events with the employees as they occur. During evaluations refer to your notebook as evidence to convince employees of your desire to give fair assessments based on recorded performance.

Failing to tie evaluations with provable workplace events can result in a damaging condition called "performance creep."

"Suppose an evaluation form calls for ratings from 1 to 5 on an escalating scale of performance," says Moynihan. "The first year the supervisor says ‘I think you met my expectations so I will give you a 3.' The next year the supervisor says ‘You did better this year and I don't want to give you a 3 again so I'll give you a 4.'

"Over time, everyone's ratings skew toward the ‘outstanding' end of the scale. As collective evaluations rise over time, the reviews become useless from the standpoint of assessing and improving performance."

Performance creep can also result from a confrontation disinclination on the part of supervisors who may be uncomfortable with the review process, i.e. if the supervisor assigns a 5, the employee claims they deserve a 7, and the supervisor raises the rating.

All this doesn't mean personal characteristics can't be assessed. You can rate abstract characteristics, such as attitude, leadership, initiative, cooperation, interpersonal skills, and maturity. But when you do, make your point with examples from the employee's performance record. A work diary is invaluable for recording examples and numbers.

How about those individuals whose work cannot be measured quantitatively - a telephone operator or a receptionist?

"The receptionist's job is to meet and greet people as they come in the door," says Moynihan. "How do you evaluate how effectively they do that? You might get customer feedback. Ask clients and vendors: ‘Has the receptionist greeted you well and treated you kindly, and answered the questions you need answering?'"

If you can't come up with measurable objectives take the three or four main components of the person's job description and evaluate them against actual performance.

Identify Causes Of Poor Performance

So Joe is doing badly. Why? The causes of poor performance can be difficult to determine. Sometimes people are in the wrong role, or outside problems are impinging on their work. Other times there is a manager-employee personality conflict. Try asking the employee: "What would you say is one of the key reasons for your poor performance?" and "What can we do to improve the work environment to help you perform better?"

These conversations can be difficult because they often touch on issues of personality. It's important to encourage the employee to open up and contribute.

"Make the review a two-way conversation," says Schackne. "Maybe you say, ‘Here is how I see your performance,' and then the employee can come back and say, ‘Here is what I think.' Make each of your statements a discussion point rather than a threat.

Set Future Goals

It's not enough to delineate the good and bad points of the past year. Set specific goals for the coming 12 months. Make a "vital tasks" agenda in which every measurable high-priority task is outlined.

Sometimes your verbal prompts will be sufficient to stimulate the employee toward realizing what needs to be done. But you should also ask the employee for insight. What performance would bring the greatest personal satisfaction one year from now? What talents can be honed?

Set timetables for improvement. They are important milestones that help avoid procrastination. The manager, too, needs to follow a schedule. One of the traditional failings of evaluations is lack of follow-through. Mark your calendar at checkpoints that have been coordinated with the employee. Meet with the employee on those dates to discuss progress.

Bottom line: The annual performance review, far from something to dread, is the number one tool for creating a dynamic workforce. Help your employees set goals to assure they are invested in the process. Review performance on a regular basis to avoid surprises at the annual review.

And finally, go by the numbers: Quantify performance to make sure facts, not opinions, are the operating mechanisms that assure fairness for all. The result will be motivated workers and a profitable organization.


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Article Categories:  Human Resources  »  Management